Assisi, Italy: a full day of pilgrimage to many churches of St. Francis and St. Clare

We started early this morning, trying to get the good light and take photos before the herds of tourists arrived. We followed Rick Steve’s Assisi walking tour, listening to it on my phone.  Of course, with Linda taking photos we only got half way by 1 pm.  Assisi was a thriving town in the 13th century, but then had a bout of the black death in the beginning of the 14th century and time pretty much stood still.  Luckily, the favorite son and daughter (St. Francis and St. Clare) became famous saints right after their deaths, so this town became a pilgrimage hot spot over the centuries (it still is today for some people).  Here is a typical street scene that was probably the same since the 14th century.Assisi Italy 4 30 15 street scene smallWe started at the top of town and walked by the medieval laundry spot.  Here is the faucet coming out of the wall and filling up a large basin to wash in.  I image the women of the town doing laundry and catching up on the town gossip.Assisi Italy laundry fountain close up smallThere are many images of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child and other religious scenes on the walls all around the town.  Here are a couple of my favorites.Assisi Italy madonna wall small Assisi Italy stained glass window smallWe went into the basilica of St. Clare to see the simple yet beautiful style of religious decor. Assisi Italy alter stAnd then we did a little shopping.  We are only buying a few small things, since we cannot pack anything else.  I got a couple of my favorite St. Francis prayer on a tiny wood plaque, and a lovely pink long scarf for me.  My entire wardrobe is black (everything matches) and I use scarves to vary the looks (I am still a woman, even if the camera seems to grow out of my right hand).  We met Alessandro Grimaldi in his shop (Galleria d’ Arte Perna , number 20 on Corso Mazzini) where he sells his brother Paolo’s medieval fantasy townscape paintings.  They are really quite inventive and priced right to collect.  Assisi Italy Alessandro Grimaldi small_edited-1Being right in the middle of town is great.  At 1pm we were hot and tired, so we just popped up the steep hill, ran up the 50 steps and flopped on the bed.  A shower and a short 50-minute nap, and off we went.

We found Chiesa Nuova, the church on top of the place where St. Francis’ family lived.  And down the street we stumbled upon this lovely, very plain, St. Stefano’s church.  According to  Wikipedia “The building, in Romanesque style, was erected between the 12th and the 13th century and feature simple lines. Like other churches in the town, the facade and the walls were left without decorations. The interior, which has maintained much of the original medieval appearance, has a single nave with Gothic arches, small windows and a wooden ceiling.”  It was like stepping back in time to St. Francis’ time when this plain edifice Assisi Italy St Stefano  church 12th century smallwas his neighborhood church.  We finally made it to St. Francis’ basilica, which was huge and very baroque in decor.  Although beautiful, it was hard to imagine St. Francis’ philosophy of simplicity and nature being in tune with this immense and elegant building.  We went to Mass at 6pm right above St. Francis’ tomb.  It was a very moving experience for David and me. Then we made the long walk up hill to the top of town where our apartment is situated.  Why is it always steeper when you’re going uphill? We did 15,000 steps today and were very happy to make grilled ham and cheese sandwiches to eat out on the balcony and watch the sunset through the 13th century bell tower that we face. Assisi Italy sunset tower horz small

Online reservations: a trend you can’t ignore

Rick Steves’ guidebook suggested making online reservations for the Vatican Museums “a day or two” beforehand, and for the Borghese Gallery “at least a few days in advance.” So I started in on this a few days into the cruise, and was quite shocked to discover that, during the week we were to be in Rome, there were NO early-morning reservations to be had for the Vatican. Linda had planned to spend a whole day there, but the earliest time available was 11am on any day of our visit.

This worked out OK as her feet had different ideas anyway, and four or five hours was enough. The place was jammed, too, with many tour guides who give tours to about 30 people by use of wireless headphones, so you can have 3 or 4 guides talking at the same time in some of the larger rooms.

The situation at the Borghese was worse … until the last day of our scheduled visit, the only available times were 9am and 5pm. (The Borghese lets you in for exactly two hours.) And on the day of our visit, the next available reservations were 9 days out.

### Travel tip:  While reservations are always required at the Borghese, they aren’t required at the Vatican. You can stand in line for three hours to buy tickets, and that’s what many people were doing. Yikes!

### Travel tips:  This was the Vatican museum and this is when it was not crowded, later on when we were inside it was wall to wall people!vm crowds 5x7 smallThe reservation system is interesting.  You reserve and pay online, and of course everything is non-refundable. The Vatican sends you an e-mail you’re supposed to print and bring; the Borghese sends you an email with a code, and you only need the code. When you appear at the museum, it only takes 30 seconds to get your ticket, and no language skill at all, although of course staff in these places speak several languages.

I printed the Vatican form on the ship; if you don’t have a printer at hand, download to a USB stick or upload to the cloud, and visit an Internet cafe, which you can find on every block of Rome.

In further electronic developments, you can buy train tickets online, and download them onto your smartphone or other mobile device. You can show them to the train conductor that way — and the lady who was checking the tickets on the train seemed to prefer that, as there is nothing to punch or paper to handle.

Assisi, Italy: a medieval city of churches and our room with a view

We  arrived this afternoon around 4;30 by train from Rome and will be here in Assisi for 3 days.  The Rome train station was packed but if you look carefully you will see a sign of home even in Rome.rome 4 29 15 inside train station smallThe train ride was 2 hours and cost us about €10 or $10.80 each (2nd class),  When we got to Assisi we took a taxi up to our 2 bedroom, one bath apartment in the center of town. (That 5-minute trip cost €15, as did the 30-minute cab ride to the station in Rome — go figure.) We are traveling with 3 suitcases (one is very heavy) and 2 backpacks .  Our kind landlord here in Assisi is Gabriele.  He rushed down the steep hill to assist us in getting our bags to the front door of the apartment.  The flat is in a building that is about 400 years old (I think) and is up 50 winding stairs (5th floor).  Luckily, Gabriele helped us  carry up our suitcases or we might have been changing our clothes in the downstairs

Assisi 4 29 15 landlord Gabriele smallAssisi 4 29 15 d suitcases 5x7 smallWe chose the apartment because of the rave reviews of the views and they were right.  There are 2 balconies; one lower and one upper,  Here are some photos and the views from them. Assisi 4 29 15 lower balcony smallAssisi 4 29 15 upper balcony smallassisi 4 29 15 view apt 5x7  small Assisi 4 29 15 view from upper balcony smallThe apartment is compact , clean and roomy enough for us to bump around in.  Here are some photos;Assisi 4 29 15 apt bed small Assisi 4 29 15 bath smallAssisi 4 29 15 kitchen closed small Assisi 4 29 15 kitchen open smallThe kitchen is in this closet that opens up.  And to leave you with a sweet photo; here is a doggie that lives down the street who looks just like my sweet Mac.  I miss my dogs and my son and my family.  Oh but what an adventure….tomorrow more exploring to do finding St. Francis.Assisi 4 29 15 dog like mac small

Goodbye to Rome ; hello Assisi we are moving tomorrow April 29, 2015

It rained all day today so it was good that I had purchased a ticket to the Borghese Museum and Gallery (note to anyone coming to Rome and wanting to go to this museum, buy your ticket online at least 1 week before you want to go, they were sold out until the first week of May). I had only 2 hours to see this extensive collection of Roman sculpture, Bernini statues

( exquisite), and paintings ( including Raphael and Caravaggio) . I was in art heaven .  David decided to see the gardens and ride the little train around the grounds while I was inside.  Here are a couple of photos of some of the art that I saw.borghese museum thorn foot smallborghese museum 2 nymphs small

Tomorrow we leave Rome by train and go to Assisi.  This is the home of St. Francis of Assisi.  We will be here for 3 days while we wait for the apartment in Florence to be ready for us to move in.  I will probably not post anything for tomorrow as it wlll be a busy time.  We have had a great and educational time in Roma.


Roman cemeteries; Protestant Cemetery and Catholic Cimitero Monumentale del Verano

I find cemeteries fascinating places to take photographs. We have gone to the Protestant Cemetery and the Catholic Cimitero Monumentale del Verano Cemetery and they are an interesting contrast.  The Protestant Cemetery is very famous in Rome because the English Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, are buried there (I did not take photos of their grave stones as you can easily find them on Google).  It is a small and intimate cemetery for non Catholics and mostly foreigners of all denominations ; Protestants, Jewish people, and Eastern Orthodox people.  The graves are for individual people with an emphasis on important artists, architects, poets and writers who came to Rome in the 19th century and either decided not to leave or accidentally died there.   Here is one of the most beautiful graves in this cemetery;  this is the grave of the wife of American sculptor William Story and it has his Angel of Grief draped over it.  rome protestant cemetary story angel smallThese are a couple of other statues and monuments that I thought were particularly beautiful and one modern gravestone of an architect.rome protestant cemetary angel woman small rome protestant cemetary boy smallrome protestant cemetary cube tomb small

In contrast , the Catholic cemetery ( Cimitero Monumentale del Verano) was huge.   There were many  beautiful crypts, mosaic inlaid tombs, and beautiful statues and architecture scattered over acres of tombs.  The emphasis in this cemetery was on the family.  Many graves had photos and list of family members that were buried together. rome catholic cemetary family stone small There were very modern mausoleums that looked like tiny condos for the dead members of a wealthy family.  This one was 2 stories high and the outside was all of marble.rome catholic cemetary house tomb small  This was an older mausoleum that had this sculpture on the front of it. rome catholic cemetary angels small  But what both of the cemeteries had was cats.  They are cared for by the caretakers of the graveyard and even neutered, and adopted out in some cases.  Here is one from the Catholic cemetery that was so friendly that she jumped up into my lap and started purring  when I sat down.  They seemed to add a peaceful presence to these cities of the dead.rome catholic cemetary cat small

Ostia Antica, ancient Roman ruins: a hidden gem just a half hour from Rome

Ostia Antica graves 5x7 smallWe went to these ancient Roman ruins two days ago and they were a spectacular glimpse into the lives of Romans from 3 BC to about the 8th century AD when it was finally abandoned. Rick Steves says on his site: “Wandering around the ruins today, you’ll see the remains of the docks, warehouses, apartment flats, mansions, shopping arcades, and baths — all giving a peek at Roman lifestyles.” The first part of the site is the Necropolis (city of the dead) a large area of mass tombs just outside the city gate. Romans first cremated their dead, and as time went on they started burying the bodies above ground in sarcophagi .  Those little niches were for the cremated remains in what was probably a family grave. Since the apartments that people lived in did not have any bathing or toilet facilities the public baths and latrines were open to all citizens. Here is a photograph of a public latrine; ” There were public toilets where people sat side by side. The seats [often marble] had a hole cut out, and the waste matter would drop down to be carried away by the drains.”Ostia Antica latrines small There was an aqueduct that brought fresh water to the city; here is a photograph of one of the neighborhood cistern/ fountains where people could come out to get water.Ostia Antica fountain small They did not have kitchens in their small apartments so there were fast food places on the corners to eat out.  Here I am behind the bar of one of these food places.  There was even a patio in the back where you could sit and eat by a small fountain.Ostia Antiqua Linda bar small  There are still many mosaic floors that feature the themes of fishing on the grounds of the baths , here is a large black and white fish of some kind.Ostia Antiqua tile floors small

The almost complete Roman theater was really interesting.  I think they still do some plays here in the summer.Ostia Antica drama mask small Ostia Anticia Roman theater small

We had lunch at the snack bar.  It was so good to rest our feet and eat something.  We bought something called chicken and potatoes ( it did not look like chicken to us…mystery meat).  But dessert  was chocolate gelato that was great.Ostia Antica gelato small Getting there is easy: Metro Line A to Piramide (yes, there’s a real pyramid that was built by a first-century important man) and then take the train for about 30 minutes, all for €1.50. Admission is €8 usually. We had a great time though we did walk 26,000 steps (almost 10 miles ) that day.  We got home and went to sleep early.

The Vatican Museum a incredible treasure trove of art and artifacts

Let me preface this post with the information that we went to Rome and the Vatican in the first week of Jan. in 2007.  There were no lines for St. Peters, the dome climb or the Vatican Museum.
When we went to the Vatican Museum 2 days ago on the 23rd.   Luckily, we had purchased our tickets online a week before because I am know that we would have not waited in that very long line and just went right in at our 11 am time ( per advice of  Rick Steve’s Italy book).  We could not believe how crowded it was.vm crowds 5x7 small There were places in the museum where we were body to body. David said that if someone fainted they would not fall down. But the art was glorious especially the Sistine Chapel ( no photos allowed) , Raphael’s School of Athens and Transfiguration, Roman sarcophagus’, old maps, and Etruscan  artifacts .  vm tomb 5x7 smallvm The School of Athens 5x7 smallvm ancient map ship 5x7 smallvm etruscans vase 5x7 small We spent 6 hours in the museum and still only saw about a fourth of it.  If we come back to Rome it will be in the first week in Jan.  We are hoping to get into St. Peter’s for Sunday mass tomorrow.

On our way home we were so hungry we stopped at a sidewalk restaurant for dinner.  The food was not very good and it was very expensive. But we did not care, all we wanted to do was sit, and eat something that was not moving.linda david dinner after vatican museum small  I am one of those few people who do not like Italian food very much.  So we are not taking our lunches and eating cheese and bread for dinner.  I will be cooking in Florence but the kitchen here is too small.    The next post will be about Ostia Antica  ( the remains of a Roman town from 3 BC) which is about an hour from Rome by train.

One week in Rome in our cute one bedroom apartment by the Vatican Museum

We rented a small one bedroom apartment in an older building about 15 min. walk to the Vatican Museum.  It is very cute and decorated in IKEA so we feel right at home.  Here are the photos of the apartment.  It is 3 stories up and so we are getting some extra workouts everyday…lolrome apt beds 5x7 smallapt rome balcony 5x7 small apt rome bath small apt rome dining small apt rome kitchen small apt rome sitting  smallWe have an extremely nice landlady Laura who got us in on time and has been very responsive to any requests. If you look carefully you will see a small washing machine in the bathroom ( we have to air dry but it is nice to have some clean clothes). It is a great place to plan our adventures in Rome.  More about those adventures tomorrow.

You can see more about the apartment at — some of the furniture has been changed but there are some nice pictures.

Our last port on the cruise Alicante Spain on Spain’s east coast

The last port of call on our transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Constellation was Alicante Spain.   It was a lovely city with mainly modern buildings, and city squares with tables and food in the sunshine.alicante Spain Santa Barbara Castle lookout 5x7 small

The main attraction was the Santa Barbara Castle. Santa Barbara castle alicante spain 5x7 small

“It’s one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe and covers the complete summit of the Benacantil Mountain. Originally built by the Moors in the 10th century, the castle received its name from the conquest of King Alfonse the Wise that took place on 4th December 1248: Saint Barbara’s day ”  This is a photo of the great hall. alicante Spain Santa Barbara Castle main hall  5x7 small alicante Spain Santa Barbara Castle tapastry  5x7 small

They added on to the castle 3 times over the centuries and it is huge.  We wandered along the walls and the arches of this ancient site. This is a photo of their sundial, a very unique timepiece on the top of the castle walls.alicante Spain Santa Barbara Castle sundile  5x7 small

In my imagination I could hear the bells ringing to tell the village dwellers below that the evil invaders were coming into the harbor. I can see them grabbing whatever they could hold and running up the switchbacks to the castle for protection.  I hope they did not have to do that too much.    alicante Spain Santa Barbara Castle arch 5x7 small

Next stop for the cruise ship was Rome, our destination.

Rock of Gibraltar, our second port of call on the cruise ship Celebrity Constellation

This was our second stop on our cross Atlantic cruise on the Celebrity ship, the Constellation.  We landed in Gibraltar on April 19.  This post is so late because we had a slow and expensive internet connection on the ship.  We are now in Rome and I am  catching up on this blog.

Neither one of us had ever been to Gibraltar (part of the United Kingdom) before and we were really excited to see it.  It is a peninsula that is located at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea and has been of strategic importance to many countries over the centuries.  It has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1704.  I actually had to get up at 6:30 AM for the tour and the sun did not come up until 7:30 so I got these wonderful photos of the sunrise over the rock of Gibraltar. gib dawn rock 5x7 small gibraltar dawn 1 5x7 smll

We arranged this private tour ourselves and we had five other people join our tour. (if you want more information about how to do this see our last post , Madeira ).  Our group was very friendly and we had an awesome tour guide named Ronald.  Here is a picture of us getting picked up at the ship;our gib group small ronald gib guide 5x7 smallThis tour was 3 hours long and Ronald took us to the major sites on the peninsula;  the Europa Point lighthouse (where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Mediterranean Sea), up to almost the top of the rock which is a nature reserve for the Barbary Apes.  I loved seeing these smart animals being free to roam in their troops; then nature reserves feed them a healthy diet to supplement  their natural findings.ape eating 5x7 small ape eating orange 5x7 cape europa lighthouse 5x7 small furry ape 5x7 small

A highlight of the tour was the exploration of St. Michael’s caves.  The caves were at least 700 ft. deep and filled with dramatic columns of limestone that they had lit with blue and green lights.cave blue lace 5x7 small cave green lace 5x7 small cave stalactites grn 5x7 small

Then we stopped at a castle that was built by the Moors centuries ago.  It had a great view of the Gibraltar coast line.moorish castle gibraltar 5x7 smallcoastline view from Gibraltar 5x7 small

Then we went to Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned.  It was a lovely day.